Web 2.0 is about connecting people and enhancing the power of working together. An ongoing explosion of new technology is powering increasingly complex social and business interactions as well as enabling an unprecedented level of unmediated information exchange and horizontal organization. This trend is likely to continue because individuals, businesses, and other organizations desire the simplicity, efficiency, and utility these technologies offer.
With Web 2.0 technologies, more people have more opportunities to post information about themselves and others online, often with scant regard for individual privacy. Shifting notions of “reasonable expectations of privacy” in the context of blogs, wikis, and online social networks create challenges for privacy regulation. Courts and commentators struggle with Web 2.0 privacy incursions without the benefit of a clear regulatory framework.
Responding to the rise in adoption of social networks, virtual worlds and other Web 2.0 technologies, IBM has launched a project to create tools to help people manage their privacy and identity on the Internet, taking a stab at what could become one of the most pressing issues in online collaboration and data sharing. The project, called “PrimeLife“, will involve 14 other partners. It will be funded with 10 million Euros from the European Union, and spearheaded by Big Blue’s Research Lab in Zurich.
It is known that the European Union (E.U.) has a more restrictive privacy protection than United States. Because of different culture and history background, United State and the E.U. have different attitude about the role of government regulation. In general, E.U. Member States have a much greater confidence in public institutions and dependence upon administrative law than does the United States.
While the European Union and the United States both claim to be committed to safeguarding personal privacy, there are fundamental differences between the two in terms of how to achieve this goal. The American approach to privacy protection is driven by business interests, as compared to the E.U.’s rights-based approach.
The growth of e-commerce requires consumer confidence, and privacy is a key requirement in building online consumer confidence. An increasing number of consumers are concerned with how their personal information is used in the online marketplace, and many consumers would rather forgo web-provided information and products than provide a website their personal information without knowing that site’s information practices. These findings suggest that effective and meaningful consumer privacy protections need to be implemented if the online marketplace is to grow significantly.
In the online marketplace, the amount of information social networks can broadcast, sometimes unknown to the user, can be astonishing. In Facebook’s Beacon controversy, some advertisers were able to track the purchases of Facebook users on their site. If, for instance, a man was buying his fiancee a wedding ring on one of the Beacon advertisers’ sites, the purchase might be broadcast to his bride-to-be’s newsfeed before he had a chance to pop the question, and this actually happened. Facebook later apologized for the service overstepping its users’ privacy and offered users an opt-out function on their profiles from such advertising methods, and months later took steps to allow people to control their privacy with greater specificity than before. But that’s just Facebook. The number of social networks and other Web-based communities to track is nearly impossible for a person to do on his own.
Google Buzz is another example of how vulnerable privacy is on today’s internet world. Google released its new social tool “Google buzz” not too long ago. What Google Buzz does is essentially mash up two similar but distinct services: Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is very open, anyone can follow or send messages to anyone else, but very limited in what people can find out about you. Facebook reveals our personal information more, but we also have much control over what strangers can see. If a stranger doesn’t have your permission, they can’t see much.
When you first go into Google Buzz, it automatically sets you up with followers and people to follow. The problem is that the people you follow and the people that follow you are made public to anyone who looks at your profile. In other words, before you change any settings in Google Buzz, someone could go into your profile and see the people you email and chat with most. The fact is, the more you use Google, the more you put yourself at risk. It’s because every service you sign up for is built around your Gmail address. And since Google has effectively made that public via your Google Profile’s URL and Google Buzz, all that’s left is your password.
Studies in behavioral economics suggest that online information privacy is important to users and that users desire more control over access to their personal information and subsequent use of the information after it is obtained. If users are aware of their privacy concerns and deem privacy important, they are more likely to take steps to protect their own interests.
Indeed, privacy policies can be seen everywhere today, and they give the impression that websites safeguard personal information that they collect. When the policies are read, however, there is often very little privacy protection being promised. Policies might disclose how data is collected and how it will be transferred, sold, or traded, but often the message is that information will be collected in whatever way the website can obtain it, and the site reserves the right to share or sell it with impunity.
The “PrimeLife” project which IBM is working on aims to provide a solution for users to take controls of their personal data on the internet. It has a data manger providing users with an overview of which personal data he or she uses when, where, and how. It lets users define default privacy settings and preferences for all kinds of applications, and it prompts the user if applications request data for any other purposes but in the end.
We can’t be sure how many impacts this project will bring to the Internet world. After all, there are other variables here. Recently, Microsoft Bing has agreed only to hold user’s personal information for six months, while Google and Yahoo will continue to keep them much longer to “improve search quality.” Google stores cookies for a year and a half, far longer than they should need it for any purpose other than sending you the targeted ad.
We can’t control how Internet Company likes Google use our personal information, but at least we can bring awareness to users. By giving users the choices to control their own information, eventually users will know they have to right to request the protection of their own information, not just take whatever is given to them.